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Try This: Two moving exhibitions exploring history and identity at the CMA

Join us as we recap our experience touring “Interior Lives: Modern American Spaces, 1890-1945" and “Darrel Ellis: Regeneration” at the Columbia Museum of Art.

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Three framed works of art showcasing variations of a photographic image featuring a girl wearing a coat and holding a stuffed animal, her face obscured

“Darrel Ellis: Regeneration” explores intimacy, identity, and loss through experimental mixed media, like in the above pieces titled “Untitled (Laure on Easter Sunday).”

Photo by the COLAtoday team

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We recently caught two unique, can’t-miss exhibitions at the Columbia Museum of Art — the first, a one-of-a-kind exploration of American life curated by the CMA, and the second, a convention-bending, emotional collection making its lone Southern stop in Columbia, SC.

We loved “Interior Lives” and “Darrel Ellis: Regeneration,” and we think you will too.

What we tried:

We toured both exhibitions with the CMA’s Michael Neumeister and Jackie Adams. Neumeister is responsible for curating “Interior Lives” and gave us in-depth insight into the process of putting together this exhibition, which explores the ways everyday Americans lived between the years of 1890 and 1945 (read: the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era).

An ornate chair in front of peacock wallpaper next to a framed original section of this wallpaper

An early-1900s mahogany armchair manufactured by George C. Flint and Company alongside an original selection of the Walter Crane “Peacock Garden” wallpaper reproduced behind it.

Photo by the COLAtoday team

Ever toured the Biltmore? Or seen “The Age of Innocence” (one of this writer’s favorites) or, well, HBO’sThe Gilded Age”? This exhibition begins by inviting visitors into the lavish interiors of the upper class before delving into the other side of the wealth gap, showcasing factory workers, switchboard operators, and other working-class Americans.

A gold Seth Thomas clock photographed from behind, offering a view of the clock's interior mechanisms

We were a little transfixed by the back of this Seth Thomas clock. Did you know? There are currently only five Seth Thomas street clocks in the US, and two are located on Columbia’s Main Street.

Photo by the COLAtoday team

What we’re still talking about:

Neumeister and Adams took us through “Darrel Ellis: Regeneration,” a show organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and The Bronx Museum of the Arts that showcases the work of an artist whose work has spent decades unrecognized. Ellis sadly passed away due to complications from AIDS in 1992, and his oeuvre is finally being celebrated in this gorgeous collection.

Three framed pieces titled “Untitled (Aunt Lena and Grandmother Lilian Ellis)," featuring two women in party dresses.

“Untitled (Aunt Lena and Grandmother Lilian Ellis)”

Photo by the COLAtoday team

The year Ellis was born, his father passed away. Though the two never met in person, they were able to meet artistically — when Ellis was 19, he inherited a shoebox of the negatives of his father’s photos, which he then used to create art you’ll see in this show. Through this intergenerational collaboration, Ellis employed painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture, and photography to produce fascinating variations of family images.

A camera and a projector on display

Ellis’ process involved projecting photographic negatives onto sculpted reliefs, then photographing the results.

Photo by the COLAtoday team

What not to miss:

Simply, both of these shows. “Interior Lives” is not a traveling exhibition, so its time at the CMA is your one chance to experience it. While “Darrel Ellis: Regeneration” is a traveling exhibition, the CMA is its last stop.

How you can experience this:

You can catch both exhibitions (and we recommend you do) through May 12 at the CMA.

Things to know if you go:

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